Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty

Posted October 20, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Decision Makng, Enterprise Risk Management, Uncertainty

Tags: ,

The above is a part of the title of a World Bank report.  The full title of that report is

Investment Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty – Application to Climate Change

While that report focuses upon that one specific activity – Investing, and one area of deep uncertainty – Climate Change, there are some very interesting suggestions contained there that can be more barodly applied.

First, let’s look at the idea of Deep Uncertainty.  They define it as:

deep uncertainty is a situation in which analysts do not know or cannot agree on (1) models that relate key forces that shape the future, (2) probability distributions of key variables and parameters in these models, and/or (3) the value of alternative outcomes.

In 1973, Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, two Berkeley professors, published an article in Policy Sciences introducing the notion of “wicked” social problems. The article, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” named 10 properties that distinguished wicked problems from hard but ordinary problems.

1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. It’s not possible to write a well-defined statement of the problem, as can be done with an ordinary problem.

2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. You can tell when you’ve reached a solution with an ordinary problem. With a wicked problem, the search for solutions never stops.

3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad. Ordinary problems have solutions that can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong. Choosing a solution to a wicked problem is largely a matter of judgment.

4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. It’s possible to determine right away if a solution to an ordinary problem is working. But solutions to wicked problems generate unexpected consequences over time, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness.

5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot” operation; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly. Solutions to ordinary problems can be easily tried and abandoned. With wicked problems, every implemented solution has consequences that cannot be undone.

6. Wicked problems do not have an exhaustively describable set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan. Ordinary problems come with a limited set of potential solutions, by contrast.

7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique. An ordinary problem belongs to a class of similar problems that are all solved in the same way. A wicked problem is substantially without precedent; experience does not help you address it.

8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. While an ordinary problem is self-contained, a wicked problem is entwined with other problems. However, those problems don’t have one root cause.

9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. A wicked problem involves many stakeholders, who all will have different ideas about what the problem really is and what its causes are.

10. The planner has no right to be wrong. Problem solvers dealing with a wicked issue are held liable for the consequences of any actions they take, because those actions will have such a large impact and are hard to justify.

These Wicked Problems sound very similar to Deep Uncertainty.

The World Bank report suggests that “Accepting uncertainty mandates a focus on robustness”.

A robust decision process implies the selection of a project or plan which meets its intended goals – e.g., increase access to safe water, reduce floods, upgrade slums, or many others– across a variety of plausible futures. As such, we first look at the vulnerabilities of a plan (or set of possible plans) to a field of possible variables. We then identify a set of plausible futures, incorporating sets of the variables examined, and evaluate the performance of each plan under each future. Finally, we can identify which plans are robust to the futures deemed likely or otherwise important to consider.

That sounds a lot like a risk management approach.  Taking your plans and looking at how your plans work under a range of scenarios.

This is a different approach from what business managers are trained to take.  And it is a clear example of the fundamental conflict between risk management thinking and the predominant thinking of company management.

What business managers are taught to do is to predict the most likely future scenario and to make plans that will maximize the results under that scenario.

And that approach makes sense when faced with a reliably predictable world.  But in those situations when you are faced with Deep Uncertainty or Wicked Problems, the Robust Approach should be the preferred approach.

Risk managers need to understand that businesses mainly need to apply the Robust/risk management techniques to these Wicked Problems and Deep Uncertainty.  It is a major waste of time to seek to apply the Robust Approach when the situation is not that extreme.  Risk managers need to develop skills and processes to identify these situations.  Risk managers need to “sell” this approach to top management.  Risks need to be divided into two classes – “normal” and “Deep Uncertain/Wicked” and the Robust Approach used for planning what to do regarding the business activities subject to that risk.  The Deep Uncertainty may not exist now, but the risk manager needs to have the credibility with top management when they bring their reasoning for identifying a new situation of Deep Uncertainty.

Communicating with CEOs

Posted September 24, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Decision Makng

Tags:

 The point of communication isn’t to speak. It’s to be heard and understood — to have influence and motivate action. Effective communication requires knowing what information you want to convey and what action you want to motivate, but that’s not enough. You must also know your audience — in this case CEOs—well enough to determine what factors will truly resonate and motivate them to take the desired action based on your information.

CEO’s often are not thinking about their key decisions in the same statistical terms that a risk manager or other quantitative analyst would favor.   Several different studies show that most experienced decision makers do not apply statistical thinking either.  Instead they apply a natural decision making process assisted liberally by heuristics. 

CEO’s and other leaders also commonly have different perspectives on priorities than risk managers and analysts.  Analysts will tend to see the world “realistically” with a balance between risks and rewards, while CEO’s may have reached their position, in part, because they see the world “optimisticslly” as containing plenty of opportunities where rewards are much more likely than overstated risks.  Of course, from the perspective of the CEO, the analysts are “pessimistic” and they themselves are “realistic”. 

To communicate with CEO’s, risk managers and analysts need to learn to frame the results of their work in terms that make sense to CEO’s.  That will often be in terms of Natural Decision Making, Heuristics and Opportunities. 

For more on this topic, see Actuarial Review “How to Talk to a CEO“. 

 

Risk Culture, Neoclassical Economics, and Enterprise Risk Management

Posted September 22, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Enterprise Risk Management, Risk Culture

Tags: , ,

Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System copyFinancial regulators, rating agencies and many commentators have blamed weak Risk Culture for many of the large losses and financial company failures of the past decade. But their exposition regarding a strong Risk Culture only goes as far as describing a few of the risk management practices of an organization and falls far short of describing the beliefs and motivations that are at the heart of any culture. This discussion will present thinking about how the fundamental beliefs of Neo Classical Economics clash with the recommended risk practices and how the beliefs that underpin Enterprise Risk Management are fundamentally consistent with the recommended risk management practices but differ significantly from Neo Classical Economics beliefs.

Hierarchy Principle of Risk Management

Posted September 8, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Business, Chief Risk Officer, Compliance, Enterprise Risk Management, ERM, Governence, Risk Culture

Tags: ,

The purpose of ERM is NOT to try to elevate all risk decisions to the highest possible level, but to master discerning the best level for making each risk decision and for getting the right information to the right person in time to make a good risk decision.

This is the Hierarchy Principle as it applies to ERM.  It is one of the two or three most important principles of ERM.  Why then, might you ask, haven’t we ever heard about it before, even from RISKVIEWS.

But most insurers follow the hierarchy principle for managing their Underwriting process for risk acceptance of their most important risks.  

You could argue that many of the most spectacular losses made by banks have been in situations where they did not follow the hierarchy principle.  

  • Nick Leeson at Barings Bank was taking risks at a size that should have been decided (and rejected) by the board.
  • Jerome Kerviel at Soc Gen was doing the same.
  • The London Whale at JP Morgan is also said to have done that.  

On the other hand, Jon Corzine was taking outsized risks that eventually sank MF Global with the full knowledge and approval of the board.  Many people suggest that the CRO should have stopped that.  But RISKVIEWS believes that the Hierarchy Principle was satisfied.  

ERM is not and cannot be held responsible for bad decisions that are made at the very top of the firm, unless the risk function was providing flawed information that supported those decisions.  If, as happened at MF Global, the board and top management were making risk decisions with their eyes fully open and informed by the risk function, then ERM worked as it should.  

ERM does not prevent mistakes or bad judgment.

What ERM does that is new is that

  1. it works to systematically determine the significance of all risk decisions, 
  2. it ranks the significance and uses that information, along with other information such as risk velocity and uncertainty, to determine a recommendation of the best level to make decisions about each risk,
  3. it assesses the ability of the firm to absorb losses and the potential for losses within the risks that are being held by the firm at any point in time,
  4. it works with management and the board to craft a risk appetite statement that links the loss absorbing capacity of the firm with the preferences of management and the board for absorbing losses.

ERM does not manage the firm.  ERM helps management to manage the risks of the firm mainly by providing information about the risks.  

So why have we not heard about this Hierarchy Principle before?  

For many years, ERM have been fighting to get any traction, to have a voice.  The Hierarchy Principle complicates the message, so was left out by many early CROs and other pioneers.  A few were pushing for the risk function to be itself elevated as high as possible and they did not want to limit the risk message, deeming everything about risk to be of highest importance. But RISKVIEWS believes that it was mostly because the Hierarchy Principle is pretty fundamental to business management and is usually not explicitly stated anywhere else, even though it is applied almost always.

ERM now receives a major push from regulators, to a large extent from the ORSA.  In writing, the regulators do not require that ERM elevate all risk decisions.  But in practice, they are seeing some insurers who have been elevating everything and the regulators are adopting those examples as their standard for best in class.  

Just one more way that the regulatory support for ERM will speed its demise.  If regulators advocate for consistent violation of the Hierarchy principle, then ERM will be seen mainly as a wasteful burden.  

 

Risk Culture and Enterprise Risk Management (1/2 Day Seminar)

Posted September 2, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Cultural Theory of Risk, Risk Culture

Tags: ,

Afternoon of September 29 – at the ERM Symposium #ERMSYM

Bad risk culture has been blamed as the ultimate source of problems that have caused gigantic losses and corporate failures in the past 10 years. But is that a helpful diagnosis of the cause of problems or just a circular discussion? What is risk culture anyway? Is it a set of practices that a company can just adopt or does culture run deeper than that? How does risk culture vary between countries and continents? How do risk cultures go bad and can they be fixed? This is, of course, a discussion of the human side of Enterprise Risk Management. 

This half-day seminar (1 – 4:30 p.m.) will draw together materials from business organizational theorists, anthropologists, regulators, rating agencies, investors, corporations, insurers and auditors to help define risk culture and diagnose problem causes. The objective is to provide the attendees with multiple perspectives on risk culture to help them to survive and thrive within the potentially multiple risk cultures that they find themselves operating alongside – or against. In addition, the speakers will draw upon their own experiences and observations to provide a number of practical examples of how risk cultures can and do go wrong. This discussion may help you to identify the signs of devolving risk culture if they start to appear in your organization. Finally, the difficult topic of fixing a bad risk culture will be discussed. That part of the discussion will help attendees to attain a realistic perspective on that extremely difficult process. 

The seminar will be presented by three speakers from very diverse backgrounds. Andrew Bent, Risk Coordinator for Suncor Energy Inc. has also worked in multiple levels of government in New Zealand and Canada. Bent has co-authored several articles and papers on strategic risk assessment and the use of root cause analysis in risk management. Carol Clark is Senior Policy Advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago where she has most recently been focused on operational risk issues associated with high speed trading. Her research has been published in the Journal of Payment Systems Law, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Chicago Fed Letter and Economic Perspectives as well as Euromoney Books. Dave Ingram is Executive Vice President at Willis Re where he advises insurers on ERM practices. Ingram has worked extensively with both Life and Property and Casualty insurers on various aspects of risk management over the past 30 years. He has recently co-authored a series of articles and papers on risk culture and has had a number of experiences with the risk cultures of over 200 insurers.

Speakers: 
Andrew Bent, ARM-E, ARM-P, CCSA, CRMA, Risk Coordinator, Suncor Energy
Carol Clark, Senior Policy Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago 
David Ingram, CERA, PRM, EVP, Willis Re

Registration

The History of Risk Management

Posted August 28, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Risk Learning, Risk Management

Tags: ,

Please find a new permanent page on RISKVIEWS – The History of Risk Management.  It is a simple list of major historical events that are important to Risk Management and ERM as it is practiced today.  This list was compiled with the help of INARM

Risk Management development has not followed a particularly straight line.  Practices have been adopted, ignored, misused.  Blow up have happened.  Some of those blow ups are mentioned on another page in RISKVIEWS – Risk Management Failures

But Risk Managers have learned from those blow ups and the next generation of Risk Management programs incorporated those learnings. 

The most important thing to know about risk management that we have learned from history is that risk management must be practiced in earnest.  No amount of good talks or fancy charts will take the place of roll up your sleeves and do it risk management.  Promoting that sort of Risk Management is the objective of this Blog. 

 

 

Too Much Risk

Posted August 18, 2014 by riskviews
Categories: Correlation, Diversification, Enterprise Risk Management, Modeling, Risk Appetite, risk assessment, Risk Culture, Risk Management System

Tags: ,

Risk Management is all about avoiding taking Too Much Risk.

And when it really comes down to it, there are only a few ways to get into the situation of taking too much risk.

  1. Misunderstanding the risk involved in the choices made and to be made by the organization
  2. Misunderstanding the risk appetite of the organization
  3. Misunderstanding the risk taking capacity of the organization
  4. Deliberately ignoring the risk, the risk appetite and/or the risk taking capacity

So Risk Management needs to concentrate on preventing these four situations.  Here are some thoughts regarding how Risk Management can provide that.

1. Misunderstanding the risk involved in the choices made and to be made by an organization

This is the most common driver of Too Much Risk.  There are two major forms of misunderstanding:  Misunderstanding the riskiness of individual choices and Misunderstanding the way that risk from each choice aggregates.  Both of these drivers were strongly in evidence in the run up to the financial crisis.  The risk of each individual mortgage backed security was not seriously investigated by most participants in the market.  And the aggregation of the risk from the mortgages was misunderestimated as well.  In both cases, there was some rationalization for the misunderstanding.  The Misunderstanding was apparent to most only in hindsight.  And that is most common for misunderstanding risks.  Those who are later found to have made the wrong decisions about risk were most often acting on their beliefs about the risks at the time.  This problem is particularly common for firms with no history of consistently and rigorously measuring risks.  Those firms usually have very experienced managers who have been selecting their risks for a long time, who may work from rules of thumb.  Those firms suffer this problem most when new risks are encountered, when the environment changes making their experience less valid and when there is turnover of their experienced managers.  Firms that use a consistent and rigorous risk measurement process also suffer from model induced risk blindness.  The best approach is to combine analysis with experienced judgment.

2.  Misunderstanding the risk appetite of the organization

This is common for organizations where the risk appetite has never been spelled out.  All firms have risk appetites, it is just that in many, many cases, no one knows what they are in advance of a significant loss event.  So misunderstanding the unstated risk appetite is fairly common.  But actually, the most common problem with unstated risk appetites is under utilization of risk capacity.  Because the risk appetite is unknown, some ambitious managers will push to take as much risk as possible, but the majority will be over cautious and take less risk to make sure that things are “safe”.

3.  Misunderstanding the risk taking capacity of the organization

 This misunderstanding affects both companies who do state their risk appetites and companies who do not.  For those who do state their risk appetite, this problem comes about when the company assumes that they have contingent capital available but do not fully understand the contingencies.  The most important contingency is the usual one regarding money – no one wants to give money to someone who really, really needs it.  The preference is to give money to someone who has lots of money who is sure to repay.  For those who do not state a risk appetite, each person who has authority to take on risks does their own estimate of the risk appetite based upon their own estimate of the risk taking capacity.  It is likely that some will view the capacity as huge, especially in comparison to their decision.  So most often the problem is not misunderstanding the total risk taking capacity, but instead, mistaking the available risk capacity.

4.  Deliberately ignoring the risk, the risk appetite and/or the risk taking capacity of the organization

A well established risk management system will have solved the above problems.  However, that does not mean that their problems are over.  In most companies, there are rewards for success in terms of current compensation and promotions.  But it is usually difficult to distinguish luck from talent and good execution in a business about risk taking.  So there is a great temptation for managers to deliberately ignore the risk evaluation, the risk appetite and the risk taking capacity of the firm.  If the excess risk that they then take produces excess losses, then the firm may take a large loss.  But if the excess risk taking does not result in an excess loss, then there may be outsized gains reported and the manager may be seen as highly successful person who saw an opportunity that others did not.  This dynamic will create a constant friction between the Risk staff and those business managers who have found the opportunity that they believe will propel their career forward.

So get to work, risk managers.

Make sure that your organization

  1. Understands the risks
  2. Articulates and understands the risk appetite
  3. Understands the aggregate and remaining risk capacity at all times
  4. Keeps careful track of risks and risk taking to be sure to stop any managers who might want to ignore the risk, the risk appetite and the risk taking capacity

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 660 other followers

%d bloggers like this: